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  1. Skills development lectures RESEARCH AND WRITE IN POLITICAL STUDIES

  2. LECTURE STRUCTURE • Aims. • Social Sciences Literature. • Strategies for Finding Sources. • Accessing Sources. • Evaluating Sources. • Finding Your Voice.

  3. AIMS This lecture provides various techniques of how to navigate the world of academic writing: • What is academic writing, and how does it differ from other forms of information? • What are the different types of academic writing? • How do I access this information? • How do I process or evaluate this information? • How do I find my voice in the academic debate?


  5. SOCIAL SCIENCES LITERATURE How do the social sciences differ from other disciplines?

  6. SOCIAL SCIENCES LITERATURE • AIM: systematic, evidence-based research. • Same aims as natural sciences. • BUT: We cannot replicate the experimental research design used in the natural sciences. • Medical studies use control groups (i.e. given a placebo) to determine the efficacy of drugs. • Studies on the consequences of conflict, however, cannot start a conflict in a country. • We have to rely on other research techniques to gain insight. • Social sciences literature evolves via debate as new information emerges.

  7. SOCIAL SCIENCES LITERATURE How does academic literature differ from other forms of writing?

  8. SOCIAL SCIENCES LITERATURE: Peer Review • Peer-review: Evaluation mechanism in which qualified individuals within a field (i.e. ‘experts’) determine whether an academic paper is suitable for publication. • Generally used in academic journals to ensure a high quality of work.


  10. SOURCES: Types Primary: • Reports e.g. newspapers; government reports • Media e.g. audio interviews; radio; video • Court cases • Objective Data • Official legislation e.g. constitution; government acts Secondary: • Books • Political Encyclopaedias/Handbooks • Single-author volume • Multi-author (i.e. edited) volumes • Journal Articles

  11. Reference List Example: Primary Sources South African Legislation  Republic of South Africa, Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, No.108, Pretoria: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 1996. Government publications  Department of Education, Green Paper on Higher Education Transformation, Cape Town: Department of Education, 1996. Cases  Constitutional Court, Minister of Finance v. Van Heerden, 2004, Interviews  Alexander, Neville and Price, Max. Do we need race to determine admission at educational institutions? By Kieno Kammies. Talk 702, 23 November, 2010. Newspaper Articles  Price, Max. “Is There a Place for ‘Race’ in a University Selection Policy?”The Star, Pretoria News and The Cape Times, 21 April, 2010, Secondary Sources Books Miller, David. Social Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976. Journal Articles Benatar, David. “Just Admissions: South African Universities and the Question of Racial Preference.”South African Journal of Higher Education 24, 2 (2010): 258-267.

  12. SOURCES: Academic Journals What is an academic journal? Why are they useful? • Peer-reviewed – this ensures high quality. • Periodical – new or up-to-date information emerges more rapidly. • Focuses on a particular discipline or subfield – this helps with the navigation of the literature. • Shorter than books!

  13. SOURCES: Academic Journals Political Studies encompasses a wide range of sub-disciplines Sub-fields: • American Journal of Political Science • Journal of Conflict Resolution • Public Opinion Quarterly • Journal of Democracy • Foreign Policy Other (relevant) fields: • Gender Studies • E.g. Women and Politics • Area studies • E.g. “Middle Eastern Studies” and “Latin American Research Review”

  14. SOURCES: How to find relevant information? The sources selected should be determined by the assignment you have. What does your assignment require? Must you… • Analyse an argument? • Evaluate a theory? • Identify and analyse a topic or case?

  15. SOURCES: Where to begin? The trick is to start narrow then broaden to other sources. Often there is a key text that can be used as a springboard. Let’s call this Text A. • Look in Text A’s references for sources that the author consulted. • Search citations index for sources written by other authors that consulted Text A in their work. • Check the author’s list of published works (usually on university site) to find alternative articles with which to search.

  16. SOURCES: Example Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

  17. SOURCES: Analysing a Text Sources that cite Mamdani (2001) include: • Stephan Kinzer, A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and The Man Who Dreamed it (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2008) • Max Rettig, “Gacaca: Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Postconflict Rwanda?”African Studies Review, Vol. 51, No. 3 (December, 2008): 25-50

  18. SOURCES: Analysing a Text Other works by Mamdani on Rwanda include: • -- “A Brief History of Genocide,”Transition, No. 87 (2001): 26-47. • -- “African States, Citizenship and War: A Case-Study”, International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 3 (Jul, 2002): 493-506

  19. SOURCES: Analysing a Topic Start broad and narrow down as much as possible to specific area of interest. • Read ‘review articles,’ published in peer-review articles. • Use each subsequent text’s references to build a network of sources.

  20. SOURCES: Review Article Example Howard Adelman, “Bystanders to Genocide in Rwanda (Review),”The International History Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun, 2003): 357-374. • Peacemaking in Rwanda: The Dynamics of Failure by Bruce D. Jones; The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda by Alan J. Kuperman; • When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda by Mahmood Mamdani; • A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide by Linda R. Melvern; • 'A Problem from Hell': America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power; Never Again? The United States and the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide since the Holocaust by Peter Ronayne; Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda by Michael Barnett; • Re-imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival, and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century by Johan Pottier

  21. SOURCES: Non-Political Studies Resources As political issues span across a wide variety of dimensions, you may find information in journals from other disciplines: • Other social sciences (e.g. sociology) • Economics • Law


  23. ACCESSING SOURCES: Print Information • ALEPH: • Main Library • African Studies Library • Journals • Interlibrary Loans

  24. ACCESSING SOURCES: Electronic • Electronic Databases • PAIS International and PAIS Archive (specialist databases for Political Studies) • J-STOR (archival information) • Electronic Journals • Off Campus Login:

  25. ACCESSING SOURCES: A final note. It is tempting to type a search term into: • Google Scholar → info overload so be mindful. • Wikipedia → NOT a reliable source. Remember, reputation matters! Key words matter: • Consider: US spelling; alternative phrases e.g. “affirmative action”; “preferential treatment policy”; “B-BBEE”.


  27. EVALUATING SOURCES What is a reputable source in the social sciences? • The author is an expert in the field. • Peer-reviewed • If quantitative, methodology must be transparent and replicable.

  28. EVALUATING SOURCES: Citations You can use the following to assess the reliability of a source: • Google Scholar for any type of source. • ISI Citation Database for journal articles.

  29. EVALUATING SOURCES: Google Scholar • • Enter the source’s title and/or author. • The number of citations will be listed below the source. • Mamdani’s book, for example, has been cited over 1,000 times! • Click on the link. • These sources will be listed in order of their respective citations. • It also may be helpful to look at the “Related Articles” link.

  30. EVALUATING SOURCES: ISI Citations Index • Go to • Click on “ISI Web of Science” • Click on “Cited Reference Search” • Type in the title and/or author and/or timeframe in which you would like to restrict your search. • Tick the box next to the work you want to search for and click “Finish Search”. • A list of the works that cite the text will appear and you can then refine your search depending on what exactly you’re looking for.

  31. EVALUATING SOURCES: Review Articles The following articles review Mamdani (2001): • Jeffrey Herbst “The Unanswered Question: Attempting to Explain the Rwandan Genocide (Review)”, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 3 (May-June, 2001): 123-126. • René Lemarchand “A History of Genocide in Rwanda (Review)”The Journal of African History, Vol. 43, No. 2 (2002): 307-311.

  32. EVALUATING SOURCES: Journal Rankings Try to use the most reputable journals in your field. Journals vary in reputation depending on their ability to publish influential work. There are different was to rank journals. • E.g. Survey experts; based on citation and content analysis (bibliometrics); etc.

  33. EVALUATING SOURCES: Suggested Reading For more information on journal rankings in political studies, please consult: • McLean et al. (2008), available at: • Journal Citations Report – Social Sciences Edition (under UCT Library’s databases)


  35. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Strategies • Master all the concepts and/or theories involved in your assignment. • Find relevant sources. • Analyse the debate. • Form your own argument • Justify your position.

  36. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Debate Analysis Who is saying what? Which authors agree/disagree with each other? Which authors are the most prominent?

  37. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Your Argument See previous lecture for more information on forming arguments. Remember to express the argument in your own words.

  38. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Justify Your Position Why did you choose your argument? • Which arguments did you find convincing? • Why? • Which were unconvincing? • Why?

  39. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Student Example 1 “Mahmood Mandani’s argument for mass participation is a sound one. The political wing combined with the economic factors and the Burundi Hutu’s made a deadly combination. One that resulted in the death of thousands of people and one that resulted in the events that shocked the world.”

  40. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Student Example 1 Problems with this example: • The student has not shown whyMamdani’s argument is sound. • To do this, the student needed to show how Mamdani’s argument, against others, was more convincing. • Instead, the student reasserted Mamdani’s points. • Essentially, they argued that Mamdani is right because Mamdani said X, Y and Z.

  41. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Student Example 2 “Mamdani’s stance, while convincing and appealing it is to one’s sensitivity, neglects to take into account that within the “moment of decision” there are subconscious influencers that sway the individual to act in an unusual way. These many not be reducible to “choice” and may be embedded in cultural and personal history. Hintjens’ (1999; 243) acknowledges the pivotal role of the Rwandan state, but emphasises that the influence of one factor does not exclude the influence of others. In other words, Mamdani’s focus on fear risks neglecting the equally important influence of other factors, such as economic deprivation.”

  42. FINDING YOUR VOICE: Student Example 2 Student 2 has a far better argument because: • It is clear that s/he has critically engaged with Mamdani’s text. • S/he has consulted other sources – i.e. Hintjens. • Her/his own voice is clear – they have shown why the analysis provided by Hintjens is useful when analysing Mamdani by showing how Hintjens’ logic highlights a problematic argument style used by Mamdani.

  43. FURTHER INFORMATION • Subject Librarian: Alex D’Angelo • • 021 650 4475 • Subject Guide • • YouTube Tutorials •

  44. This presentation is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 South Africa License. To view a copy of this licence, visit Or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105, USA.